Wilde Serial, #6

Christopher Hitchens once wrote this of Wilde:

“The kernel of his [socialist] credo, however, is to be found in the offhand remark made by Algernon Moncrieff at the opening of The Importance, where he reflects, “Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.” Here, in a well-turned aside, is the cruelty and thoughtlessness of all theorising about the deserving rather than the undeserving poor. Wilde never lost his revulsion against sermonising of this kind, and maintained that it was finer to steal rather than to beg; just as it was morally deaf to preach strict dieting to those suffering from malnutrition. It was for guessing at the secret hatred and coldness, which at all times underlay the English profession of charity and moral hygiene, that he made the enemies who rejoiced in his abjection.”(From “Oscar Wilde’s Socialism”, Dissent, Fall 1995, reprinted in Unacknowledged Legislation, pp.11-12.

Right, back to the serialisation. The earlier instalments below: I, II, III, IV, V.”The Soul of Man Under Socialism” by Oscar Wilde, Part Six

With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

It is a question whether we have ever seen the full expression of a personality, except on the imaginative plane of art. In action, we never have. Caesar, says Mommsen, was the complete and perfect man. But how tragically insecure was Caesar! Wherever there is a man who exercises authority, there is a man who resists authority. Caesar was very perfect, but his perfection travelled by too dangerous a road. Marcus Aurelius was the perfect man, says Renan. Yes, the great emperor was a perfect man. But how intolerable were the endless claims upon him! He staggered under the burden of the empire. He was conscious how inadequate one man was to bear the weight of that Titan and too vast orb. What I mean by a perfect man is one who develops under perfect conditions; one who is not wounded, or worried, or maimed, or in danger. Most personalities have been obliged to be rebels. Half their strength has been wasted in friction. Byron’s personality, for instance, was terribly wasted in its battle with the stupidity, and hypocrisy, and Philistinism of the English. Such battles do not always intensify strength: they often exaggerate weakness. Byron was never able to give us what he might have given us. Shelley escaped better. Like Byron, he got out of England as soon as possible. But he was not so well known. If the English had realizes what a great poet he really was, they would have fallen on him with tooth and nail, and made his life as unbearable to him as they possibly could. But he was not a remarkable figure in society, and consequently he escaped, to a certain degree. Still, even in Shelley the note of rebellion is sometimes too strong. The note of the perfect personality is not rebellion, but peace.

It will be a marvellous thing — the true personality of man — when we see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flower-like, or as a tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue or dispute. It will not prove things. It will know everything. And yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. It will have wisdom. Its value will not be measured by material things. It will have nothing. And yet it will have everything, and whatever one takes from it, it will still have, so rich will it be. It will not be always meddling with others, or asking them to be like itself. It will love them because they will be different. And yet, while it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing helps us by being what it is. The personality of man will be very wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *